Data from: Reproductive plasticity and landscape heterogeneity benefit a ground-nesting bird in a fire-prone ecosystem
Carroll, J. Matthew et al. (2017), Data from: Reproductive plasticity and landscape heterogeneity benefit a ground-nesting bird in a fire-prone ecosystem, Dryad, Dataset, https://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.r8ph6
Disturbance is critical for the conservation of rangeland ecosystems worldwide and many of these systems are fire dependent. Although it is well established that restoring fire as an ecological process can lead to increased biodiversity in grasslands and shrublands, the underlying mechanisms driving community patterns are poorly understood for fauna in fire-prone landscapes. Much of this uncertainty stems from the paucity of studies that examine the effects of fire at scales relevant to organism life histories. We assessed the response of a non-migratory ground-dwelling bird to disturbance (i.e., prescribed fire) and environmental stochasticity over the course of a 4 year period, which spanned years of historic drought and record rainfall. Specifically, we investigated the nesting ecology of northern bobwhite (Colinus virginianus; hereafter bobwhite) to illuminate possible avenues by which individuals respond to dynamic landscape patterns during a critical reproductive stage (i.e., nesting) in a mixed-grass shrubland in western Oklahoma, USA. We found that bobwhites exhibited extreme plasticity in nest substrate use among time since fire categories (TSF) and subsequently maintained high nest survival (e.g., 57 – 70%). Bobwhites were opportunistic in nest substrate use among TSF categories (i.e., 72% of nest sites in shrubs in 0-12 months post fire compared to 71% in herbaceous vegetation in >36 months post fire), yet nesting decisions were first filtered by similar structural components (i.e., vertical and horizontal cover) within the vicinity of nest sites regardless of TSF category. Despite being a non-migratory and comparatively less mobile ground-nesting bird species, bobwhites adjusted to dynamic vegetation mosaics on a fire-prone landscape under stochastic climatic conditions which culminated in stable and high nest survival. Broadly, our findings provide a unique depiction of organism response strategies to fire at scales relevant to a critical life-stage, a topic that has been previously understudied and poorly understood. We also demonstrate how doing so can better inform conservation practices aimed at restoring fire regimes on grassland and shrubland landscapes.
National Science Foundation, Award: Grant No. IIA-1301789 and Grant No.1413900